Birth to introspection
distinctly ethical dimension. A large portion of Motherhood is devoted to Heti’s consultation of various forms of divination: she has a tarot reading and an impromptu prediction from a psychic. She poses questions to the I-Ching via coins that answer randomly Yes or No. At one level it seems flippant to pose such serious questions to such unscientific methods.
But Heti recognises that just as she delegates the question of the meaning of her life to these external authorities, parents do the same with their children. Either their children become the source of their meaning or, by not resolving the question of how to live adequately themselves, parents live with the consolation that their children may yet do so.
That is why the decision to not have children for Heti is so difficult. More than anything, it involves a recognition that responsibility for her own happiness begins and ends with her.
“There is a kind of sadness in not wanting the things that give so many other people their life’s meaning.” It’s true there is an undeniable grief at the heart of this book and it has to do with the contraction of possibilities that comes with adult life. Either Heti makes a decision or her own biology closes off the alternative.
In narratives constructed from women’s lives motherhood is the happy ending, the event that the woman herself cannot hope to surpass. Motherhood is not so much a subversion of this but a rejection of traditional narrative. Heti’s realisations are distinctly middle-aged: there is no golden archway we pass through into happiness. On the other side of our most significant decisions, there is only more life.
She watches a video of a family holiday from when she was nine or 10, in which her mother tells her contemptuously to “stop acting”; that her acting and herself are “completely mixed up”. It’s a cruel observation, yet therein lies an abiding truth. Most realist writers aim for verisimilitude in their work. In Heti’s essayistic description and refusal of confection, the distance between her life and writing are all but elided. That may not be the easiest way to negotiate life, but it may be the highest form of praise that can be accorded to a novelist. is a writer and critic.